Learning to live with crocodiles
Conservation biologist says society must be taught how to coexist with reptiles
A CONSERVATION biologist has raised concerns that, with the expansion of rural communities, the habitats of the American crocodile, a protected specie by law, could be under threat.
The American crocodile is Jamaica’s largest terrestrial animal and is known to be illegally poached and consumed.
Joseph ‘Joey’ Brown, who also serves as curator at Hope Zoo in Kingston, explained that there has been a sharp decline in the population of the animal over the past two decades, and that this is largely because of a general lack of understanding and education of how residents can coexist with it.
Numerous crocodile habitats can be found in the parishes of St Elizabeth, St Catherine and Clarendon.
Brown, who is a member of the Crocodile Specialist Group (CSG) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said “It’s us that have kind of moved into their habitat, they’ve been here the whole time.
“But, as our population grows and our communities start spreading out, we’re essentially spreading into a lot of the swamps and mangroves, and so there’s gonna be more interactions as we grow, but we have to teach people how to live with them,” he said.
In both urban and rural parts of Jamaica, there have been several reports of crocodile sightings, many of which have been shared on social media. In these videos, locals could be seen making, in some instances, successful attempts to capture the animal. Most often, the claims are that the crocodile has been a bother to the community and could be seen creeping into yards or other public spaces that human beings frequent.
The crocodile is among the protected species that are illegally poached, according to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).
INCREASE IN ILLEGAL POACHING
According to NEPA, there has been an increase in the last 10 years regarding reports of illegal poaching. There have also been instances of illegal poaching where an animal was found dead with its tail missing or found dead in a trap.
One resident of the Clarendon community of Farqhuar Beach told The Gleaner that crocodile meat was marketed in the neighbourhood. Although it did not have a large market, throngs of male customers were willing to venture out to sample the exotic meat, believing it has aphrodisiac properties.
“You have some man weh love it man, any weh it (sell), from dem hear say you ketch it, them find you and call and order weh them want,” he said.
“A so Jamaican man stay enuh! Anytime them hear ‘bout something for them manhood, them love it, and so every man want it, no care how the something bitter and taste bad,” he said.
“Then you just want two or three more man fi say ‘yeah man, it bad fi true’ then everybody want it,” he added.
In past times, he continued, locals were content in only consuming the crocodile’s tail, but, in recent years, they have been observed eating the entire body of the animal, including its head.
He said that a wooden fire is used to cook the crocodile meat.
The resident said he did not believe that crocodiles must be eaten, especially because they lived in swampy water.
In St Elizabeth, some locals shared similar sentiments. A lady told The Gleaner that “God never put crocodile pon earth fi people come a eat it”.
The dreadlocked woman who was speaking of the practice to hunt the animal, said she “bun up that”, adding that persons who killed and sold the animal meat were “wicked”.
A local from Black River stated that she heard that the meat of the animal was delectable and costly.
“It very expensive, $5,000 a pound, and if ya go restaurant go eat it, a $10,000,” she said.